Due to the rampant use of hazardous chemicals during production, leather and synthetic leather products have always been associated with a big negative environmental impact. Despite the availability of vegan leather alternatives, the uptake is slow since commercial scale production has been a challenge for most producers.
Recently, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd. came up with a breakthrough technology that enables continuous production of meter long mycelium leather sheets. Applicable for industrial roll to roll production, the first products manufactured could be accessories, footwear, garments, etc.
Fungal mycelium is a bio-based raw material that can be sustainably processed into leather-like materials. Until now, increasing the production volume with current methods has been challenging due to mycelium cultivation taking place in a planar two-dimensional form limited in size. “Our process makes it possible to overcome these size limitations,” explains Manuel Arias Barrantes, VTT’s research scientist.
Using fungal mycelium as the key raw material, sustainable leathery materials are created. Increasing the production volume had been a challenge but with the latest research and technological innovation, those limitations have been overcome.
VTT is relying on developing mycelium in common bioreactors. The pros of such an approach are that liquid fermentation in bioreactors is easily scalable to commercial scales and similar fermentation technology is already used widely in food, pharma, and chemical industries.
The researchers have developed a film-making process that allows for continuous production using VTT’s pilot equipment. This helps with consistent quality, reduced amounts of off-cuts and most importantly a competitive manufacturing cost.
The development work at VTT has been funded by Business Finland.
The scientists are now focusing on improving the tear strength of the alternative and its abrasion resistance by superior bio-based approaches. VTT’s achievement is going to contribute in making mycelium leather alternatives easily available in the market.